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vowel quality

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vowel quality

Postby Alexias7 » Tue Apr 06, 2004 2:55 pm

Hello! I'm new to this fabulous site and a relative beginner in the study of Ancient Greek. There is a matter for which I have yet to find a satisfactory answer. It may have already been addressed in these posts (though I haven't found it if it has). So, at the risk of being accused of beating an apsyxos hippos (if I could get the SPIonic font to kick in, I would), here is my question: What are the IPA equivalents for epsilon and eta? Every text I have seen explains vowels in terms of being like some word or other in English (or French, or German). One site on the web, a French site, stated that the eta was the equivalent of the closed [e] like in 'parler' - but that is a very extreme sound. I suspect the French are seeing Greek through the lens of their own language. As I teach German/French/Italian Diction for singers, I am very particular about IPA usage. Indeed, the symbol [e] is used for the high/closed sound for all three languages, but the Italian is not as closed as the French and German. Symbols (as we know) are imprecise and relative. Is the Greek eta the same as the Italian closed [e]? I look forward to hearing your learned opinions.

Alexias
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Postby chad » Wed Apr 07, 2004 4:34 am

hi alexias, this site lists the international phonetic symbols for the classical greek alphabet:

http://www.rhapsodes.fll.vt.edu/Greek.htm

it says that epsilon is /e/ and eta is /(a backwards 3):/

i should add that the major difference between epsilon and eta is, in my opinion, from what i've read, vowel quantity not quality. it's the same with omicron and omega. e.g. omega used to be written (omicron omicron) in early greek... not a diphthong but a digraph for an omicron pronounced about twice as long (in time) as normal.

hope that helps, chad :)
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Postby Alexias7 » Wed Apr 07, 2004 5:07 pm

Hi Chad! Thank you for the referral to the site. But what it says about eta and epsilon is just the opposite of what I thought it would be. I would so much like to see consistency with other Indo-European languages on the vowel issue - but it is not to be, I guess. The chart does list omicron as a long/closed [o] and omega as a short/open, which is what I expected. One other question: I read somewhere that theta was originally an aspirated [t'] (which is like Sanskrit) and the 'th' evolved later. The chart lists theta as an aspirated [t']. When did the change happen? Is [th] just present in modern Greek? We use the symbol for the Greek letter theta to represent the English 'th' in IPA.

Alexias
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Postby chad » Wed Apr 07, 2004 11:48 pm

hi alexias, i think the aspirated consonants changed to fricatives a few hunderd years AD. in BC, theta, phi and chi were definitely pronounced as aspirated consonants: they discovered this looking at inscriptions in other languages, e.g. latin, where they wrote the greek word for "philip" with a P or a PH, rather than F, which would have been the right letter in latin if the greeks pronounced the start of philip with a fricative.

incidentally they determined some latin consonants by their transliteration in greek, e.g. V in latin... the greeks used the diphthong "ou" rather than something like beta.

the book to read is "vox graeca". it pulls together all of the evidence. but choose whether you want to follow his recommendations, which seem to me to be basically designed for people who have been pronouncing greek incorrectly for years (e.g. pronouncing phi as a fricative rather than an apirated plosive). he often recommends that you follow the old incorrect techniques for consistency, e.g. using a stress rather than pitch accent, things like that. cheers :)
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